by Tyler Grant
Worms… There’s so many different kinds: threadworms, roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms, just to name a few. Often, people carry these little parasites for years without even knowing they’re inside them. But they are. And they’re feeding off of us. If enlightened, you might say that’s normal, that there’s medicine for them, but there’s something you don’t know. In fact, quite a lot you don’t know. Some worms are magical. Not magical like in Disney fairytales. More like Grimm fairytales. Evil, dark, untamed magic. This is a cautionary tale. Don’t dismiss the inkling, or prickle of hair rising on the back of your neck next time you feel something isn’t quite right. You were given instincts for a reason. In the meantime, sit tight, wait for the bite. If you know it’s coming, you might feel it nibble. You might have just enough time to do something about it before it’s too late.
For Emma, it all began at a carnival, with a caramel covered apple. She was on a rare date with her husband, a night out and away from their daughter who was at home with G-Ma. After a couple of sodas, overpriced hotdogs, and a game of “shoot the ducks”, Emma had a tough decision to face. Should she invest her night’s next indulgence in an elephant ear? Or should she take the apple of her youth? She’d always loved the caramel covered apples this time of year. Her mother used to take her to these kinds of attractions, and they’d each order an apple, ride the rides, and pet the animals. For nostalgia’s sake, Emma was leaning toward the apple now, but anyone who’s ever heard a fairy tale should know that an apple can never be taken lightly.
Sadly, Emma did not believe in fairy tales. Emma believed in yum-yums.
She asked Mark to find a bench while she stood in line. He declined a treat of course, claiming that he was watching his ‘girlish figure’— which was a joke, but it still bothered her. Mark was in decent shape, handsome in a natural way, and generally quite judgmental of Emma’s weight.
Emma weighed more than three-hundred pounds standing with one foot on the scale in her underwear. She knew she should take better care of herself, not eat so much junk food, but that apple… It looked so good. She’d never been able to turn down a caramel covered apple.
She blamed her mother.
I’ll start a diet tomorrow, she lied to herself and idly wondered, is keto still a thing people do? She would miss the sweets, but Emma was a girl who liked her protein. She could invest as much in a steak as a cake.
When it was her turn to order, the man behind the window of the trolley made her wait while he disappeared into a closet and rustled in banging fashion in search of something.
“What can I get you?” he wheezed, reappearing in the frame of the window, his face creased from age.
“I’d like a caramel apple.”
The man turned his face to the side, looking at her with one— perhaps his good— eye. He replied, “I’ve got just one left.”
Emma felt her stomach tighten, mouth starting to water, grateful for her good fortune.
“Okay,” she said eagerly and started rummaging through her purse looking for cash.
“Not so sure I should give it to you,” the man said.
Emma looked up, astonished. “What?”
The man shook his head, looked away entirely, muttering something under his breath.
Emma’s shoulders were under her ears, her face flushed from embarrassment, believing the man thought she ought not have the apple because of her size. Looking over her shoulder, she spotted Mark sitting at a table, smiling and waving her on. She turned back to find that the vendor had returned to the window and was holding the apple out to her.
“I can get something different,” she found herself saying, hating that she was in such a place of her life that she would sacrifice her dignity to please a total stranger.
“You’re husband wants you to have it,” the vendor said.
Emma again looked over her shoulder at Mark, who was nodding emphatically, encouraging her to take the treat.
She looked back at the vendor suspiciously, thinking this was the strangest food order she’d ever placed. Slowly, she took the apple from the grizzled old man and passed a twenty over the counter. The man retreated, holding up weathered hands.
“You don’t want my money?”
He shook his head, said, “No money for that apple. It’s not a good apple. You ought not to have it.”
Emma looked at the apple, which appeared to be delicious and perfect, and then again at the vendor who could no longer make eye contact.
“Really, I’m happy to pay,” she said.
The man raised his chin away from her, closing his eyes and said, “I wish you good night, and good luck.
”Quoting Cronkite, she thought.
Slowly, on her heel, Emma turned and waddled back to where Mark was sitting and plopped down in the seat next to him with a huff.
“Looks good,” he said.
Emma twirled the apple on its stick, inspecting it because of the vendor’s strange behavior. It really did appear to be any ordinary candied apple.
“Aren’t you going to take a bite?” he asked.
Slowly, Emma raised the apple to her lips, took a bite and chewed, a washed in great memories of her childhood as the flavor of the treat took her back.
She nodded, eyes closed, happily enjoying the sticky caramel. She held the apple out to Mark, offering a sampling of this little piece of heaven.
“Oh, no,” he said. “Not for me.”
Emma shrugged, forgetting the strange encounter with the vendor a moment ago, and took another bite, not noticing the larvae hiding near the apple’s core.
Later that night, Emma kissed seven year-old Kris goodnight. When she entered the master bedroom, she found Mark already undressed, tucked safely under the covers of their bed. She knew out of experience that this meant there would be no love making tonight. It didn’t surprise her. They’d only made love once since Christmas, and it was already June. Emma knew her weight had something to do with that, but neither she nor Mark seemed to have the guts to confront the issue in conversation.
Trying to put dark thoughts out of mind, Emma said, “I’m going to draw a bath, unwind for the night. My feet are killing me after all that walking.”
“Yeah,” Mark grunted, not really caring what she was about to do with herself.
Emma nodded and disappeared behind the door.
As she was undressing, starting the water, Mark called from his place under the covers, “Hey, Em?”
“Yeah?” she called back.
“How are you feeling?”
She perked up. Was Mark taking an interest in her? Opening the bathroom door, she poked her head out and said, “What do you mean?”
He shrugged, said, “I was just wondering how you were feeling after eating that apple.”
Emma felt a pang of hurt run through her quicker than lightning.
Mark must have seen it on her face because he quickly said, “I just mean because of all the sugar that’s in it.”
Emma said quietly, “I feel fine,” and closed the door. She let the water run and sat on the toilet, naked, sobbing for a long time, wondering how she’d let herself fall into such a bad place… wondering if she’d ever get out of it.
The following morning, Emma woke with hunger pains like she hadn’t felt in years. She tried to resist her strong desire for food, not wanting to give up on her resolutions for dieting so soon, but her stomach just wouldn’t stop rumbling.
In the kitchen, she made a tower of pancakes, fried eggs and bacon, poured orange juice for Kris, coffee for her and Mark, and sat down at the table to slather butter, syrup and ketchup all over her perfect creation.
Everyone ate quietly at the table. There was seldom talk between Mark and Emma these days. Often, they listened to Kris’s chatter, remarking sometimes on something that was cute, or something funny.
None of that today.
Emma finally broke the static, asking Mark, “What are you going to do today?”
“It’s Saturday. Do you have anything fun you want to do?”
Without looking at her, Mark said, “I might go for a run. Need to burn off this breakfast, you know?”
Emma lowered her eyes on her plate, put her fork down, and tried to ignore the hunger pains she was experiencing. Guilt was the only feeling that was worse in her life.“A run sounds nice,” she said, quiet as a mouse.
Mark glanced sideways at her, his mouth full of pancake, said, “You ought to try a walk. Start small, you know? One bite at a time, so to speak.”
“Mmm,” she said. “I might just do that.”
Emma got up to clear her plate.
“Where’re you going?” Mark asked.
“I’m not hungry.”
She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard him mutter under his breath, “I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
Three days later, Emma had started sneaking food again. She’d prided herself for years that she no longer needed to sneak snacks throughout the day and night. She thought she’d left that all behind, but Mark’s judgmental tone and looks had recently pushed her over the edge.
Emma now stood alone in the bathroom. She had the house to herself. Kris was at G-Ma’s and Mark was at the bar with a couple of buddies. He’d been spending quite a bit of time at the bar lately, but Emma tried not to think too much about that, reminding herself that everyone faced challenges.
Dressing down to her panties and bra, Emma regarded herself in the mirror. She looked thinner, believe it or not. She wasn’t about to complain, but it did seem that with the increase in calories that she was consuming, she should not be losing weight. She wondered if it was just a trick of the light, so she stepped on the scale and found to her utter amazement that she was down 18 pounds in just three days, all while sneaking food.
Feeling a lightness and butterflies in her stomach, Emma stepped off the scale and then back on again, making sure that it wasn’t bugging out. Same result.
“Must be broken,” she said, and retrieved a second scale from the linen closet.
Cautiously, guarding against being let down, she stepped on. The wind caught in her throat and she tried to contain her excitement, but her thoughts were racing, ideas spilling from her brain when she saw that this scale also recognized an eighteen pound difference since her visit to the fair.
How? Extra cardio? No. She hadn’t done any walking. And she’d been sneaking food…
Don’t mess with a good thing, she thought.
After dressing, she walked back down the stairs toward the kitchen, her stomach rumbling from hunger. She tried to resist the urge to fix another snack, reminding herself that she had eaten lunch just over an hour ago, but the gurgling from her guts wouldn’t let her alone. And, she reminded herself, she was down eighteen pounds.
She wanted to call Mark and give him the good news but thought that might be a bad idea. Mark wasn’t very supportive, and he’d probably say something nasty. Plus, she might just gain the 18 pounds back if she kept overeating and then he’d have something new to hold against her. Emma decided to remain quiet on that front, and just celebrate this minor miracle with a fresh baked batch of cookies. Yes, that way she could at least fill the cookie jar, claiming to have made the hot gooey treat for Kris.
The hunger pains were getting worse and worse, but Emma continued to lose weight over the next ten days. As the days spun by, the pounds dropped off. Emma, who just eleven days ago had weighed 309 pounds, now weighed a meager 179. Her skin was hanging off her like a loose bag.
She’d gotten some strange looks when she went grocery shopping and had decided that she’d be better off staying at home.
Mark appeared stunned by her transformation, though when she’d tried to be intimate with him, believing that this lighter her would be more attractive to him, she found that he was repulsed by her baggy skin and stretch marks.
There was just no way to please the man.
Emma had just finished tailoring one of her dresses to fit, which had been quite a trick, and was now looking at her medical card, reading the emergency nurse number over and over, trying to make up her mind on whether or not she should call.
She was a little worried after all. Why was she losing so much weight when she’d made no lifestyle changes? There had to be some explanation, and though she didn’t want to question what she hoped was good fortune, Emma couldn’t help but wonder if there was something nefarious at work inside of her.
Mark came into the bedroom just as she’d started to punch the nurse’s number into her phone.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
He gestured toward the phone and medical card in her hands.
“Oh,” she stammered, “I don’t really know. I was thinking about calling a nurse, I guess.”
“Why?” he asked flatly, no sympathy detectable in his voice, obviously not giving a rip what was wrong with her.
“I, uh, I’m just a little worried…”
“Well…” Emma spluttered, “I guess I’m wondering why I’m losing all this weight.”
“Aren’t you happy you’re losing the weight?” Mark said, his tone bitter. “Isn’t that what you always wanted?”
Emma wanted to say, but didn’t, That’s what YOU always wanted. And now that it’s happening, you still won’t touch me. She did say, “I’m not complaining. I just… It’s happening so fast. I think maybe I should see a doctor. Make sure that I’m doing this the right way, you know?”
I think that’s a bad idea.”
“They’ll put you on pills. Prescribe something addictive. They’re in the pharmaceutical industry, Em. They don’t really have your best interests at heart.”
“Trust me, you’re fine.”
“No more buts. Give it another week. I’m sure you’ll feel better in a week or so. Let the anxiety pass. The last thing we need is for you to go off on another one of your worry trips.”
Slowly, Emma looked down at the phone, the screen now gone dark in sleep mode.
“Leave it alone, Emma,” Mark reinforced.
She nodded, believing that she was making a huge mistake, but afraid of what Mark might do to her if she crossed him.
Another week went by and Emma continued to drop weight. Now only weighing 134 pounds and hungrier than ever, despite consuming what she’d calculated to be approximately five thousand calories per day.
She’d gotten in the habit of checking herself on the scale once a day, and then, when realizing the progress was so quick, she’d started checking morning and night. Starting on this day, she checked hourly, and found that she was now losing anywhere from a quarter to half pound every hour.
While she was lying next to her daughter in bed, reading a goodnight story, Emma was plagued by an eerie thought:
When will it stop? At what weight will I be thin enough that I stop dropping pounds? Will it stop? What will happen if it doesn’t?
The hunger pains were worse than ever. She ate so much, but still, she couldn’t stop the weight from dropping.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What?” she asked, alarmed.
“Why do you look so scary?”
Emma winced, said, “I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I’m okay, baby.”
“Where’s the rest of you?”
“You mean my fat?”
Her daughter shrugged again.
“I’ve been losing weight. Don’t I look better? Don’t I look healthier?”
Her daughter shook her head.
“What’s the matter, Pumpkin?”
“You don’t look the same. I want my old mommy back.”
“Oh, baby,” Emma said and squeezed her daughter tightly to her breast. “I am your old mommy. I was really sick before. That’s what happens to people when they eat too much. They get sick. But now I’m all better.”
Kris looked at Emma skeptically.
“You don’t believe me?”
Her daughter shook her head again.
“Just wait. You’ll see. I’m going to be just fine, little darling.”
Later that night, Emma stood in front of the refrigerator like a ravenous wolf and shoved calorie after calorie into her mouth. Anything she could grab off the shelf she ate. Anything that was digestible, she consumed. She gobbled and snarfed it all down just as fast as she could, only stopping when her belly felt so swollen it might pop. When done, she fell into one of the kitchen chairs and sat there panting like an animal.
Still, the hunger pains remained.
Why is this happening to me? Tomorrow, I’m calling the nurse. No, I’m going straight to the hospital, Mark be damned.
Emma forced herself to get up and lumbered into the master bedroom and then into the bathroom where the scale sat waiting for her. Not bothering to undress, knowing that it wouldn’t make a difference, Emma got on and found that she’d not just dropped a half a pound in the last hour, but three!
She let out a miserable wail of despair.
Before she could completely freak out, she heard the front door open and the familiar drunken banging of Mark’s entrance as he stumbled his way inside. Emma came out into the bedroom to greet him, knowing that if she didn’t drop everything and say hello, there would be hell to pay.
He barged in through the bedroom door.
“Hey,” she said.
He grunted, head lowered, clearly very inebriated.
“Did you have fun?” she asked timidly.
He grunted again, tried to look up at her, but his eyes were unfocused from the alcohol. He wavered on his heels and then pointed in her general direction and said, “Get ‘em off.”
“Get ‘em off.”
“Get what off?”
Shocked, Emma asked, “Why?”
“What good are you skinny, if I don’t get to fuck you?”
He started undoing the belt buckle on his jeans, his chin dipping as he concentrated on the task.
“Get ‘em off,” he repeated, the octave of his speech rising with impatience.
Slowly, because she always did what Mark told her to do, Emma lifted her dress over her shoulders and stood before Mark in her panties and bra, hugging herself.
Mark struggled for a bit with his own pants, not bothering to take his shirt off before he even looked up at her. When he saw her, his lips curled up into a sneer, and he said, “You could still stand to lose a few.”
Emma felt hot tears form at the corners of her eyes. They didn’t even have time to run down her cheeks before he’d spun her around, ripped her panties to the ground and entered her from behind.
When it was done, Mark fell off her onto the floor, breathing hard, and passed out.
Emma, tears flowing freely down her face, limped into the bathroom and proceeded to clean herself up. Caught up in her shock, hatred of Mark, and overall low feelings of self-worth, Emma went about wiping down her skin with baby wipes, as if she could erase his touch. For months she had craved intimacy with her husband. But after what happened tonight…
When she was inspecting her stomach, she thought she saw something move. She paused her vigorous wiping and watched the skin around her abdomen. After a moment, she started to think she’d just imagined it, and as she was moving her hand to begin scrubbing again, she noticed the unmistakable squirm of something under her skin at exactly the same time she felt another horrible hunger pain.
Emma, bewildered, carefully touched the place she’d seen move.
It wriggled again.
Emma was crippled by pain in her abdomen. It felt like she was being eaten alive from the inside, which she was.
While she was being devoured, Mark loudly snored in the next room, too drunk to awaken to her shrieks of terror. It was Kris who found her, and what she saw was not pretty.
Her mother was a skeleton dressed in a bag of human skin so loose the lids of her eyes sagged shut and her lips fell away from her teeth, folding over like lifeless goo.
Kris ran from the bathroom and grabbed her father by the wrist and jerked hard, shouting, “Daddy, Daddy!”
“Wha- What?” he garbled.
“It’s Mommy. Something bad is happening to Mommy!”
“She’s fine,” he groused, trying to go back to sleep.
“Daddy!”He waved his daughter off, snapping, “Go back to bed!”
Mark woke in the middle of the night, his head already throbbing from a hangover only on its way. He needed to pee, but just moving caused him suffering.
With much regret, Mark crawled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom. He pushed the door open and sidled up to the toilet, bracing himself with one hand against the wall as he hung his equipment over the bowl. He had kept his eyes shut against the bright white light of the bathroom and watched the orange spangles wiggle on the backs of his eyelids.
When he was done, he flushed and started back for bed but paused when he felt something cold squish between his toes.
“Ahh, God,” he moaned.
Mark opened his eyes and groaned louder because of the blaring white light. “Jesus, Emma, what did you spill in here?”
Cupping his hands around his eyes, he tried to squint at the bathroom floor, his pupils dilating and contracting out of reflex and shock. When his vision became useful, Mark jumped at what he saw on the floor.
He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles like a small child who’d stayed up long after bedtime.
“What the… Emma? You see this shit in here?”
His wife made no response, and as a moment passed, Mark realized there was no problem with his eyes. What writhed on the floor was a mountain of worms!
They had eaten Emma, but Mark hadn’t yet brought himself to believe that. He couldn’t explain their being there, except to note that perhaps Emma was playing an elaborate gag on him. A perplexing hoax that she’d no doubt need punishing for. And not the fun kind. The serious.
Mark got his daughter out of bed, who cried for hours, so long that Mark gave up on trying to get her to school.
She wailed about her mother turning into worms.
“It was just a bad dream, Darling.”
“No! I saw it!”
Mark rolled his eyes, thinking that Emma was really going to get it now. Trying to coerce their daughter into screwing with him? She was really, really, going to get it.
To Kris, he said, “I’m going to go make some food. I’m absolutely starving. It feels like my stomach is eating itself. Do you want something?”
His daughter shook her head
Mark went into the kitchen and stood there a moment, realizing that he hadn’t cooked anything more complicated than a frozen pizza since he married Emma. No bother, he’d cobble something together. He didn’t need that fat ugly bitch to do anything for him anymore.
He made the most elaborate breakfast he could fathom and sat down with a satisfied smile spreading across his face. So what if his stupid, ugly wife had run off and tried to pull a fast one on him. He’d get the last laugh. He’d show that stupid cow!
Mark stabbed an entire over easy egg and jammed it into his mouth, inhaling it with a ferocious chomp. He sucked some down into his lungs, which started him on an outrageous coughing fit. It couldn’t be stopped. He hacked and coughed and hacked some more until he was red in the face and his veins and tendons stood from his skin like highways on the gridlock.
When he thought he was going to die, not enough oxygen going in to replace what was going out, Mark gave one final, horrendous cough, feeling something wet and slimy fall into the hands he was cupping under his chin.
He sucked in air, finally able to breath. He reveled in the oxygen and thoroughly admonished himself for being so ravenous he’d nearly choked to death. But damn, he thought, if he wasn’t hungry.
Then he looked down, saw the writhing worm in his cupped palms, and realized that it had come out of him.
He slowly looked up and understood what happened to Emma. And then… that it would happen to him too.
(Bio: Tyler Grant is the author of dozens of comedy, suspense, and horror stories, including ‘Secret in the Attic’, ‘The Night Locker’, and the collected short stories; ‘Tyler Grant’s Series Of Voices’. He holds a Master’s in English and worked as a news journalist for six years prior to writing short fiction and novels. Grant lives in Washington State. You can follow him on Facebook. Or at his website, Tyler Grant Books. You can also purchase his books at Amazon.)